What Is Privacy

What Is Privacy

Your privacy is the aggregate of your decisions to cede knowledge, power and control over you to another. These decisions can be in the affirmative or the negative, implied or explicit, remembered or forgotten. Example to follow.

This works both in the singular (you as an individual) and in the collective (you as a group). Privacy is essential to personal liberty and collective democracy. It is the essence of power.

This is about Power

The more a company knows about you, the more power it has to shape your daily life. That power is exercised on the spectrum ranging from the benign, such as showing you a shoe ad, to the consequential, like selecting your job, your housing, or helping to shape what candidate you support in an election. — authors of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

You may not want an app to spy on you and send your location to a dozen data brokers who then send it to hedge funds to determine stock trades (unless you got the stock tip along with — or in place of — those companies).

There is a gradient between the unknown company surveilling you for leverage, and a partner you trust with your life. In a relationship, such transparency is often a fundamental building block of trust. You want someone else to have the knowledge, perhaps to act in your absence or to better tend to your needs. You demonstrate trust with the knowledge that it will be rewarded as your relationship grows.

Sometimes you just wish Netflix knew the books you read on your Kindle so you could see a better personalized selection when you turn on the TV. The largest companies in the world want to own everything so they can make this happen. But wouldn’t it be valuable if the products and services you already own, the brands you know and trust, could communicate better with your permission?

There are brands you love (the Nascar, NYT, Nike, etc), that have to trade in the back alleys for your data. But why not have a direct connection?

The Privacy Paradox

An overwhelming majority of people say they want privacy (85% from our surveys), yet continue to act in ways that appear opposite to those interests when online. And it should not come as a surprise, either. The landscape online is designed to manipulate you to their own ends. When you arrive at a website or open an app for the first time, it is you all alone against several, sometimes several thousand, employees working to move you along a sales funnel that is best for them.

So as an individual, don’t feel guilty. Online celibacy is not a realistic choice, and we certainly don’t advocate it. You need someone that is on your team, someone that will look after your needs.

Collectively, our push to legislate for more equitable control is working. GDPR, CCPA, etc are all laws that are helping, yet more is needed.


So, what are these decisions anyhow? When you visit a website or use an app, they typically have a Terms of Service and Privacy Policy that you agree to. Visiting often involves some form of implied consent, and creating an account will push you through an explicit one.

Oh, but there is more — much more. You may not have read that 1400 word (1400 page?) policy that opts you in for other things, more decisions made on your behalf. One click to agree at Google, and seventy two clicks to undo it.

Laws may force companies to offer privacy decisions when you first encounter a new website, but you likely don’t know this company, and shouldn’t trust them yet, but the big button saying accept all works while the others surprisingly do not. So you click it, and you don’t know the ramifications. And, wow, it is hard to find a way to undo it all.


Privacy is a collection of decisions, and thus is never binary. So how do you manage them? You can’t manage that which you do not know. So you start with an inventory. And you can use all the tracking and data compilation to your own advantage.

Looking at your browsing history and your list of accounts can give you an inventory of your implicit and explicit agreements, respectively. Logging into your primary accounts gives you access to your the consents on record, and the ability to change them. Ideally, you change the same setting across lots of sites all at once.


Most companies force you to either trust them completely and give over everything they ask for, or get left on the street without them. But you actually have quite a range of options going from nothing (no account), to "have by data but do not sell my data", to "have only some of my data and for only so long", to "have all of it forever". But they don’t make it easy.

Not only are you not getting much value from your data, but neither are the brands and services you trust.